Take Some Vitamins and
Get Some Sleep, Oedipus, and You'll Feel Better about the Whole Incest
What is it with doctors? Why do they seem to regard their patients as invertebrate mollusks incapable of thinking their way through a bunion?
I work near the hospital at which I receive all of my medical care. Sometimes I get coffee at the hospital coffee shop, where I occasionally see my junkie doctors feeding their caffeine habits. Today I ran into my internist, a somewhat dictatorial fellow who likes to look up my nose during appointments, and he wagged his finger at me and said, "Sounds like someone has the sniffles! Better take a multivitamin and get some sleep!"
Whoa, whoa, slow down there, cowboy. Did you just say something about a taking a vitamin and getting some sleep? Because I was about to start training for the triathlon! I even worked out the whole running-swimming-biking schedule in an Excel spreadsheet! Boy, I never would have considered taking a vitamin and getting some sleep. Thank God I ran into you, doctor, or I might have come to real harm.
Vitamins! And sleep! Who would have thought!
In the past, I've staved off "if only / what if / why didn't I" attacks by comforting myself with thoughts of Sophocles' play, Oedipus Rex.
Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, Good God, this chick is so weird. She makes herself feel better about her miscarriages by thinking about a mother-humping Greek? But let me explain.
If you remember, Oedipus was the son of Jocasta and Laius, the King of Thebes. When Oedipus was born, Laius was informed of the prophecy that Oedipus would one day kill his father and marry his mother. As a result, Laius instructed a shepard to kill Oedipus by leaving him exposed on the mountain. The kind-hearted shepard gave the infant to the childless Polybus and Merope instead, and Oedipus grew up believing that these two villagers were his biological parents.
When he grew up and learned of the prophecy, Oedipus left his village in an attempt to protect his parents. And once he was on the road, of course, the prophecy came true - Oedipus killed Laius (without knowing who he was), and married Jocasta after saving Thebes from the Sphinx. Many years later, after he learned the truth, Oedipus gouged out his own eyes with Jocasta's brooches and then lived out the rest of his life in exile as a prophet.
Very cheery, no?
But here's the thing. Some people have argued that Oedipus is a story about fate, about how you can't escape your destiny. But others have argued - far more persuasively, I think - that the play is actually about free will. Ancient Greek theology didn't encompass a notion of a God or Gods who determined or controlled human behavior. In the Greek worldview, individuals were fundamentally alone in the universe - they couldn't count on divine recompense for righteous behavior. There was no religious system of rewards and punishments on which they could rely, because the Gods were unknowable - and so it was up to each individual to live a moral life, as best as he or she could, given his or her own unique circumstances.
There was one thing Oedipus could have done to avoid the prophecy; he could have killed himself as soon as he learned of it. But he didn't. Instead, he tried to protect the people he loved without giving up on a vision of a different future for himself. He made the best decisions he could, with all the information available to him at the time, at each stage of his life. And I guess the point is that sometimes you end up the powerful and revered King of Thebes, married to the beautiful and wise Jocasta - and sometimes you end up blinded and living in exile, brother to your own children. And there's just no way to know how it's all going to turn out, so you keep doing the best you can, and you hope that you don't end up gouging out your own eyeballs.
I know that I can't look back and ruminate over other paths I could have taken. And I believe that one day, I'll be the mother of a child who makes it hard to imagine mothering anyone else. But between those two points - between the past I regret and the future I hope for - the road sometimes seems so long, and so hard, and so unforgiving.
And there's nothing else to do but walk